Whether you are looking into French castle valleys, Italian wineries or a full-on eastern adventure, planning a European road trip requires a lot of preparation. While for some a car is simply a liability, I like to think of it as the key to discovery and freedom. Thus, I’ve been on a few road trips myself and with time, I have developed some essential habits that I think are worth sharing with the non-initiated.
1. Buy/Rent a GPS
I can’t stress this one enough.
As old-fashioned and whimsical maps are, you will spend more time trying to find where you are and how to fold back the map rather than actually enjoy the moment and going in the right direction. GPS devices are not as expensive as they were a few years ago and are so, so much more efficient than… anything else, really. There’s just no point in debating otherwise! Save time and get a GPS.
2. Have some toll money ready
European motorways are not in such great shape for no reason – users have to pay to use them in most countries.
Tolls depend on which road you are on and how long you have been on it, and can range anywhere from 2 to 20 euros (try to turn this into a game: guess the toll!). If you do not have a European bank account and debit card, I suggest you carry enough cash to pay the tolls as not every toll machine accepts international debit or credit cards.
3. Book accommodation in suburban hotels
One of the great advantages of a road trip in Europe is that you don’t necessarily have to pay expensive downtown accommodation. You can park in the city for the day, and drive out at night to one of the many affordable suburban chains. It’s a very cost-efficient option, especially if you are only in town for a short time.
4. Bring many, many tunes
Never underestimate how quick you can go through your iPod playlist! If you think you have enough songs, think again and add some more. If you’re planning to drive a few hours a day, radio won’t be any good, leaving your precious iPod as the only available option. I carry over 1000 songs and still, I sometimes feel like it’s always the same one that’s on. Diversify and extend your selection!
And make sure you have music that will appeal to all passengers. not just you. Whoever drives gets to pick the playlist, that’s the rule ;-)
5. Pack the cooler
I wrote about it before, but eating solely in restaurants and rest areas will definitely break the bank and upset your stomach, no matter where you are.
Instead, try to pack as much food as possible in the cooler and rely on this for occasional snacks and refueling stops. Granola bars, fruits, juice boxes (candy and chips, too) are nutritive, cheap and easy to carry around. I even pack croissants for the first few breakfasts, saving even more money!
6. Don’t skimp on insurance
Yes, insurance is one of the worst things to pay for: it’s expensive, and chances are you won’t even need it. But you NEVER KNOW. Better safe than sorry, especially in a foreign country, especially with a rental car.
Before you book insurance for your trip, read your credit card’s contract: you’re likely already covered for basic civic damages and rental. But if you’re visiting high-risk countries like Iceland, for example, you will need to book extra insurance for ash damage (!). Read the fine print before you leave!